Over the past several months, we’ve spoken to dozens of school leaders and district hiring managers, along with national consultants and other experts, and reviewed numerous studies, articles, and podcasts to find answers to the pressing questions facing schools today — what strategies are effective at recruiting and retaining educators? With teacher shortages in districts across the country and a limited pipeline of young educators entering the profession, it’s critical that all schools have access to ideas that have worked in real schools like theirs.
Certain challenges are beyond schools’ control, but we’ve heard about many different programs and approaches that are working. When it comes to recruitment, it’s also worth a specific focus on the factors that can make a particular difference in recruiting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) teachers, otherwise known as teachers of color. Currently, these teachers account for only 20 percent of the profession; by contrast, students of color make up more than 50 percent of the public school population. It’s clear this is a generational trend, meaning it won’t be quick or easy to reverse, but it also presents wonderful opportunities to expand the talent pool available to individual schools, and the profession as a whole.
We asked a few educators for insights on some of the most relevant factors when recruiting teachers of color: Shonterrius Lawson-Fountain, a National Board Certified Teacher and instructional coach in Birmingham, Alabama; Tina Curry, Ed.D, Lead Coach at Fernwood Elementary in Chicago Public Schools; and Christopher McDaniel, a teacher and science department chair at Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School in Chicago. All three of these educators also contributed their expertise and real-life successes to the book Teaching for Racial Equity (Stenhouse) by Tonya B. Perry, Steven Zemelman, and Katy Smith.
Here are six of the ideas that came out in these discussions and a review of other recent materials:
- Establish and communicate your values and intentions
Establishing and then consistently communicating clear values was a key takeaway in many of our prior conversations with school leaders and hiring managers. This is a critical piece not only in attracting talent, but articulating the unique culture of a school or district, which enables both school and candidate to determine whether it’s the right fit.
This is especially important when articulating and illustrating an intent to create a positive environment for diverse educators and successfully hire BIPOC educators. Lawson-Fountain says the district’s values must be demonstrated in all branding and communications, especially with respect to cultural responsiveness and diversity. Communication should clearly articulate a school’s intentions in these areas, she says, adding, “A school must commit to an action plan that prioritizes diversity, cultural competence, and community partnerships.”
- Talk with your educators and students of color
“Schools need to be better at knowing what educators of color think and how we feel,” says Curry. It’s important that leaders not assume all teachers feel the same about decisions made in a school or find the same recruitment and retention strategies to be effective.
José Vilson, the executive director of EduColor and a former New York City math teacher, shared a similar perspective in Education Week: “There is a huge value in just asking teachers: Is this working? Why or why not?” When teachers’ insights help schools improve working conditions, that’s a win for everyone, he says.
Dialogue with teachers can also lead to better insights about the right decisions to improve student learning, particularly in diverse schools — which, in turn, will increase teachers’ satisfaction with the role they’re playing — as can direct discussion with students themselves. Lawson-Fountain, who leads professional development on supporting student voice, among other topics, explains that students are one of the valuable resources schools should rely upon when preparing to hire more educators of color. This may be accomplished by conducting a survey, a panel or focus group, or otherwise integrating students into the decision-making process. In short, understanding the population a school serves is the first step in hiring the right faculty and staff to meet students’ needs.
- Expand your recruitment relationships
“It is not just how schools and school districts are recruiting but where they are recruiting,” says Curry.
Efforts to expand beyond the traditional talent pool include recruiting at overall university career fairs (versus strictly the school of education), increasing pathways for alternative licensure, and establishing creative partnerships. Curry recommends the following specific ideas for recruiting educators of color and creating a more representative faculty:
- Attend job fairs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
- Develop relationships with the Black Student Union (BSU) at local colleges and universities
- Reach out to the National Black Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE)
- Consider different compensation incentives
Education Week reviewed a recent RAND Corp. study, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of almost 2,400 teachers, and found that educators of color broadly favor solutions that make it “more affordable to become a teacher.” Student loan forgiveness and other loan repayment assistance and/or service scholarships are among the ideas with majority support. Increased teacher salaries across the pay scale, including higher starting teacher salaries, are also strategies that could attract more teachers of color.
There is one particular area in which the study’s findings diverge from successful strategies highlighted in our previous paper: the option for higher salaries versus signing bonuses. While many district leaders have found signing bonuses to be an effective recruitment tool, only eight percent of educators of color surveyed felt this would be helpful for them, versus 45 percent who said higher starting salaries would help (and 72 percent who advocated for increased salaries across the pay scale). Of course, these ideas are not mutually exclusive, and schools may increase salaries while also offering bonuses, particularly in hard-to-fill positions.
- Grow your own future educators
“Grow Your Own” educator programs, which focus on identifying current students with the potential to teach and then supporting and cultivating that potential, are one of the popular strategies for reversing the overall shortage in new teachers. And, when it comes to improving a generational shortage in teachers of color, this can be especially powerful.
According to McDaniel, formal or informal initiatives to identify future educators in the student body can be especially key to diversifying the teaching force and hiring more teachers of color. “School districts need to start thinking of this more as a generational problem and begin efforts to recruit teachers while they are still in middle and high school,” he says. “Recruitment materials need to be targeted toward students who show the potential to become good teachers.”
McDaniel also recommends that districts create teaching academies as part of their high school curricula, which would provide students with college credit toward an education degree. For further benefit, the academies would be supplemented by scholarships and/or grants, as well as teacher mentors, to aid learners through their post-secondary studies.
- Get started now
One way to create a more positive environment for educators of color? Hire more of them, says McDaniel.
As the statistics show, most schools lack diversity in their teaching force. But this can work both ways: creating an environment to attract diverse educators can support recruitment, and likewise hiring more BIPOC educators can help to create an environment that more educators want to join.
For example, only two percent of teachers are Black male educators. We are “the unicorns of the profession,” writes middle school humanities teacher Patrick Harris II in his book The First Five: A Love Letter to Teachers, as he describes entering the job understanding both “the privilege and the pressure.” (Harris, 2022, p. XIV) When only one in 50 teachers looks like you, it’s not hard to understand why there’s a lot of pressure for a teacher of color; but imagine how confidence builds once intentional change sets in.
In sum, each of the strategies above will contribute to a successful and sustained effort over the long term. But getting started sooner than later can have a major impact, as well.